Posts Tagged ‘Myra Sands’

The audience is only 66% bigger than the cast, but it’s a full house. It’s performed on the set of the play which occupies the same theatre most of the week. Only 400 people will get to see it (including 2 extra performance!). It hasn’t been revived since it was first produced over 50 years ago. Its crying out for a major staging & if it got one could be the sort of hit Me & My Girl was second time around (though they might have to change the title!). It’s simply wonderful.

Ivor Novello’s musical comedy starts on the stage of Manchester Opera House as the run of a musical flop ends before it gets to London (actually, the show within a show – Ruritania – is rather good). Actress Gay Daventry has lost a fortune backing the show. With start-up funding from a rich(er) fellow actor she gives up the stage and sets up a school of acting in Folkstone, surrounding herself with veteran teachers of singing, acting and dance. She struggles to make a living despite the arrival of a rich student and sub-letting to some smugglers. Of course, it all ends happily – this is 1950’s musical theatre.

The show has some great tunes and it’s very funny. Stewart Nicholls production sparkles. I think they’ve taken some liberties with the book but it adds to the freshness rather than spoils the original. It’s cramped in this tiny space (with audience all round) but this somehow improves audience engagement and enhances intimacy more than it detracts from the spectacle.

But it’s the cast wot does it and boy what a cast. Sophie-Louise Dann gives one of the finest musical comedy performances I’ve ever seen; she sings beautifully and is a master at comedy. Helena Blackman continues to impress with a particular affinity & suitability for this period, as she showed in Noel & Gertie last year. There’s a quartet of veteran ladies – Doreen Hermitage, Eileen Page, Myra Sands & Elizabeth Seal – who almost steal the show with the second act opener ‘Teaching’, Josh Little is an excellent romantic lead and the ensemble sparkles. We even get a cameo from Frank Barrie.

It is a huge treat and it must have a life beyond here. Bring on the Novello revival!

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I’m not familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century book about four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, but I was expecting something more sweet and sentimental. Lionel Segal and Peter Layton’s musical is really rather good and this is its UK stage premiere.

The four sisters grow up whilst their father is away in the war and subsequently hospitalised. Budding writer Jo is feisty and independent. Meg just wants to get married and settle down. Beth is the homemaker whose becomes seriously ill. Amy is the precocious young one who grows up most, with the help of what seems like four mothers. Rather a lot is packed into a couple of hours, but it doesnt seem rushed – the story is well told and the characters develop.

It’s a fine cast, with the acting honours belonging to the four young actresses playing the sisters, who really do seem like sisters – Claire Chambers as Meg, Laura Hope London (what a great name!) as Beth, Caroline Rodgers (who grows up before your very eyes) as Amy and, most especially, a terrifically assured Jo from Charlotte Newton John (any relation?), a double for East Enders Janine if ever I saw one! Theres a lovely cameo from veteran Myra Sands as feisty Aunt March and another from Jane Quinn as local busybody Miss Crocker.

With a handful of props, it occasionally looks a bit lost on the somewhat large, well, Lost Theatre stage, but otherwise Nicola Samer’s staging if very effective – using a room above, the front auditorium floor and four entrances for a large number of scenes and a fair few locations. Its a good score, with the songs moving the story forward well, played by a hidden five-piece (?) band led by Sarah Latto. Natalie Moggridge’s design plays a huge role in creating both place and period.

This is quality fringe fare in a well run venue just 4 miles from my home, which I hadn’t discovered until now. For the fringe, its a big auditorium to fill (180 seats) but they managed it last night (albeit a Saturday and the final performance). Purpose built and opened just a couple of years ago, the seating and sight lines are good – as are the loos! Good show. Good value. Good theatre. If it wasnt the last performance last night, Id be telling you to go!

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